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Public transit moves toward more on-demand services

Some public transit riders in Hillsborough County will need to find alternative transportation starting Sunday, Oct. 8, when 14 routes are eliminated to save some $6 million annually.

Other Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) bus riders will have better and more frequent service in the route redesign.

“There are winners and there frankly, unfortunately, are losers,” says Steve Feigenbaum, HART’s Director of Service Development. “There are going to be people who aren’t going to be positively affected. We’re trying to keep it to a minimum.”

HART attempts to streamline services making them more efficient, relying upon more innovative on-demand services to replace lower ridership circular routes. Its goals are in line with a survey revealing the public favors more frequent service, even if it takes longer to reach the bus stop.

“We’re trying to do this whole thing, based on the data, where we can get the best bang for our buck,” he explains. “The budget is not adequate to really serve the full needs.”

HART is beefing up transportation to Tampa International Airport, increasing it from one to three routes. It also is increasing the frequency of Route 34 to every 20 minutes on weekdays. Bus frequency also is increasing on Routes 1, 14 and Metro Rapid.

New routes make it easier to commute from Tampa International Airport to Brandon Mall, or from Downtown Tampa to MacDill Air Force Base.

Buses 2,4, 10, 18, 21LX, 22X, 27LX, 28X, 41, 47LX, 53LX, 57, 61LX and 200X are being cut.

HART will be relying on and expanding where possible its Hyperlink services, the country’s first transit-operated rideshare service providing door-to-door service, connecting riders with existing bus lines on demand. HARTPlus will continue to serve the handicapped within three quarters of a mile from the old routes.

The transit authority is in the midst of a massive public awareness campaign to reach riders along all affected routes. Orange bags were being placed at affected stops, notices were being posted in bus shelters, and HARTline personnel were riding the buses to inform riders about alternatives.

In general, public transit riders may want to consider vanpools, carpools, Hyperlink /(in the University, Temple Terrace and/or Brandon areas), HARTFlex, private on-demand services like Uber or Lyft, taxis or private rides to get to a bus route or their destination. Hillsborough County’s Sunshine Line offers door-to-door service and bus passes to elderly, low-income and disabled individuals without transportation, and is especially useful for medical appointments, aging services and food programs.

“A lot of people that have been on express routes have shifted to vanpool,” he says.

Additionally, some shelters will be moved to replace outmoded shelters in other locations.

The route changes can be found at HART’s website under the label Mission MAX, short for Modernizing and Aligning for Excellence. An interactive tool is provided through Google Maps.

On September 25, HART approved its long-range plan which maps out its efforts to improve services in the next decade. It includes expansion of the Hyperlink service to the SouthShore in 2020, to Palmetto Beach in 2021, to Riverview in 2023, to West Park and Big Bend in 2025, in Town ’n County and South Tampa in 2026, and to East Brandon, Citrus Park and Seffner/Mango in 2027.  

“It’s a higher frequency grid in the core area and more of the on-demand type service for lower densities on the perimeter,” Feigenbaum explains.

It combines both funded improvements where monies are expected through property taxes with a sort of wish list of enhancements that may be implemented if funds become available.

Feigenbaum says HART may possibly implement ridesharing services similar to an Uber or Lyft service to help get riders to the existing routes. It may begin with a pilot program that has not yet been developed. He’s hoping it will be available in 2018.

In Pinellas County

A similar program already is under use by the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority. Its Direct Connect program uses Uber, United Taxi and apps to connect riders to its service grid. Handicapped riders can use Wheelchair Transportation Service (WTS).

Modern technology and innovative technology led PSTA to form what was the “first public-private partnership” to get people to the bus stop, PSTA officials say. Other transit systems have since taken a greater interest in emerging technology and alternative services.

Direct Connect began in two zones in 2016, then expanded in January to the current eight zones countywide. Plans call for expanding it further potentially in February of 2018, says PSTA Transit Planner Bonnie Epstein.

“The purpose of the program is to provide convenient first and last mile service to our core and frequent local routes,” explains Heather Sobush, PSTA Planning Manager. 

Another goal is to increase ridership on its 41 routes. “We just don’t have the funding to keep it at the frequency level that we’d like,” Epstein says. “So they run once an hour.”

Direct Connect can transport riders to the core system, where more frequent service is available, cutting transit time. Because of a $5 PSTA subsidy, riders pay no more than $1.

“Right now the county is divided into eight zones. Within your zone you can only travel to and from the Direct Connect in your zone,” Epstein says.

In February, they hope to remove the zones and allow more flexibility. “We expect a lot more growth,” Sobush says.

“We still want to provide that shared ride service,” she says. “We’re looking at ways to also have these innovative projects to be shared ride services as well.”


Upscale Hyatt brand arrives in downtown St. Pete

The first upscale Hyatt hotel will be coming to the downtown St. Petersburg waterfront.

The 15-story, 175-room Hyatt Place St. Petersburg Downtown officially cuts the ribbon on Tuesday, Sept. 26.  

The hotel will be located in the same block as the 41-story luxury high-rise condo ONE and across the street from the James Wildlife and Western Art Museum, which is expected to open in early 2018.

Director of Sales Ryan Tarrant hopes the hotel will become the “connector” between St. Petersburg’s Beach Drive waterfront arts district with restaurants and museums, and the more eclectic Central Avenue shops, galleries and cafes.

Tarrant is a co-Executive Director for the Suncoast Film Festival and a former St. Petersburg Area Chamber Member of the Year. He and his wife Heather also own Cinema Squatch, a cinema event company known for its free outdoor movies at the Museum of Fine Arts, Williams Park and similar venues.

Tarrant says he hopes to develop the Hyatt Place to be “very St. Petersburg-centric with a focus on everything that makes the city unique, especially local artisans and entrepreneurs.”  The hotel will be partnering with St. Petersburg Distillery and local craft brewers, as well as Black Crow Coffee Co.

He is also working with local artist Ya La’ford to create a custom mural to add to the city’s growing collection of urban art murals on downtown buildings. In addition, The Body Electric http://thebodyelectricyoga.com/ will be offering yoga at the hotel’s rooftop pool, which will feature limited engagements open to the public, including the possibility of “dive-in” movies, says Tarrant.

The hotel is being developed and managed by Kolter Hospitality and will feature a 5,000-square-foot restaurant and sidewalk café; and 4,500 square feet of event space, including a 2,700-square-foot ballroom and three conference rooms. There are also two full-service bars on the first floor and a 5,500-square-foot rooftop pool deck and bar. Tarrant hopes to offer live entertainment two or three nights a week.

The hotel will be part of the World of Hyatt loyalty program, in which members earn points and exchange them for rewards when they stay at one of the Hyatt hotels worldwide. 

“There will finally be a Hyatt product in St. Petersburg, which is something World of Hyatt Rewards travelers have been waiting for, for quite some time,” said General Manager David Cuadra in a news release.

Local restaurants Rococo Steak, Urban Comfort and Orange Blossom Catering, will provide catering services for special events and weddings.

Architectural design center opens in Ybor City

The historic San Souchi building in Ybor City, a two-story yellow brick building dating back to 1906, is now home to Center for Architecture and Design, a place where architectural organizations and the community can collaborate.

The center houses the American Institute of Architects Tampa Bay and its related organization, the Tampa Bay Foundation for Architecture and Design. It already is hosting exhibits on the fourth Friday of the month.

AIA Tampa Bay has scheduled a ribbon cutting, which is open to the public, at 10 a.m. September 7 at 1315 E. 7th Ave., Ste. 105, on the building’s first floor.

The offices, formerly located at 200 N. Tampa Street, Suite 100, are now larger and more visible. “We see a lot of foot traffic on the sidewalk,” says Philip Trezza Jr., Past President of AIA Tampa Bay. “We wanted to have that physical presence and visibility in downtown Tampa and Ybor.”

The facility will be used for meetings, art galleries and architectural displays, presentations, and continuing education for its members. An event calendar is available on the association’s website.

The gallery will showcase traveling exhibits, student projects, local artists and design contest winners.

The center also will be available to rent for meetings and special events.

“We may have an option in the future to buy it [the center space]. Right now we’re leaving our options open,” Trezza says.

A $50,000 upgrade to the property, located in the Ybor City Historic District, a U.S. National Historic Landmark District near downtown Tampa, has been underway after they moved in last year.

Improvements include pine flooring made with salvaged pine from rivers and drop-in ceilings, new cabinets and kitchen, a new air conditioning system, a new electrical system, energy-efficient lighting, and countertops with poured concrete in the kitchen area. Glass panels from University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s College of Business were recycled for a table.

A retail shop, planned next year at the front of the offices, will sell art and architecturally related items.

The 2,000-square-foot center’s design was donated by
the St. Petersburg-based Harvard Jolly Architecture, where Trezza is Senior VP and a Principal.

The San Souci building won a Community Design Award given by the Hillsborough's City-County Planning Commission in 2010. The 22,000-square-foot building, which served as a retail anchor on the west end of 7th Avenue, has housed a penny arcade, barber shop, telegraph office, the San Souci theater, a Maas Brothers department store and Babcock furniture store.

AIA Tampa Bay is the regional chapter of the American Institute of Architects. It is the professional association of some 625 architects and architecture-related workers in a seven-county area including Hillsborough, Pinellas, Polk, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Pasco counties.

The nonprofit TBFAD offers education on design to the public, and seeks to inspire the exploration and appreciation of architecture. It now will spearhead Tampa Bay Design Week, a public festival AIA Tampa Bay started in 2014.


New James Museum transforms 100 block of Central Ave., Downtown St. Pete

A 105-ton stone mesa will frame the entrance to the Tom & Mary James Museum of Western & Wildlife Art Museum, St. Petersburg’s newest addition to its growing collection of arts and cultural organizations.  

Located at the corner of 100 Central Avenue and First Avenue South in the heart of downtown, the James Museum represents the vision of Tom James, chairman emeritus of Raymond James Financial, and his wife Mary.

The James’ have donated $50 million to build the museum, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2017 with a grand opening in early 2018.

The museum will display a portion of the James’ vast collection of more than 3,000 pieces of western and wildlife art and sculpture, as well as Native American jewelry.  The couple began collecting western and wildlife art in the late 1950s and now have one of the largest private collections in Florida.

“When my wife Mary and I decided to share the best of our collection through the establishment of a museum, it made perfect sense to build that museum in the city that has been our home for over 50 years and so much a part of our family’s success,” says James. 

“Anchored by the Dali Museum, St. Petersburg already has such a strong arts presence in downtown,” says James. “We wanted to augment the array of cultural attractions and further establish the city as a cultural destination, while providing educational and entertainment opportunities for the community.” 

The final steel beam that will support the 219-foot foot tall stone mesa was lowered into place at the end of June during a “topping off” ceremony.  The event marked slightly more than the halfway point for construction of the 84,000-square foot museum, which when completed will be larger than The Dali Museum.

From parking garage to museum

The  location of the new James Museum will be a first for the city. Rather than taking shape as a free-standing entity,  the museum is being built within the bottom two floors of the SouthCore Parking Garage, a distinctive pink landmark in the 100 block of Central Avenue.  The new ONE 41-story luxury condo tower is under construction across the street. 

Last year, St. Petersburg City Council approved a 50-year lease between the city and the museum. Parking for the museum and the public will continue to be available in the remainder of the eight-story public parking garage.

In a prepared statement, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman says he is enthusiastic about the city’s partnership with the museum, which will bring another significant landmark to the downtown core.

The Beck Group is overseeing construction of the museum, which will include a 30,000-square-feet gallery space, 6,000-square feet event space, 120-seat theater, indoor sculpture court, commercial catering kitchen, café and museum store.

St. Pete Design Group, a joint venture between Harvard Jolly Architecture, Architect Yann Weymouth and Wanemacher Jensen Architects, are designing the exterior and interior.  

Weymouth designed The Dali Museum, now a major draw for visitors internationally to the city. The design for the new James Museum is expected to be just as distinctive architecturally. In addition to the 105-ton stone mesa on the front of the building, interior features include a two-story stone arroyo and waterfall.

Driving economic development

The museum’s construction presents significant development opportunities for the 100 block of Central Avenue.  

Besides transforming a 30-year-old city parking garage into a museum, the team will be creating 35,000-square-feet of retail space on the east and west side of the garage -- prime street level property that is expected to transform this corner of downtown.  

The Sembler Company is leasing ground floor retail units and Echelon Real Estate Services is leasing the Class A Office space located on the second floor.

“When we selected the museum’s location, we had in mind that we should help build and beautify that part of downtown, encourage development of hotels and other amenities for residents and visitors and make the area more attractive and pedestrian friendly,”  Tom James said at an event last year announcing the launch of the new museum. “We could have given our collection to other museums or have sold it, but we thought what better opportunity to continue the development of our city.”

Venture House moves forward on affordable housing

In South St. Petersburg, Venture House is taking the first steps toward creating affordable housing for artists, entrepreneurs, social innovators and small business owners.

In May, the nonprofit community development organization finalized architectural plans and began interior demolition on a home in the Lake Maggiore Shores neighborhood.  In June, three more properties in the Bartlett Park neighborhood were added to the list.

“It is really exciting to see us move from a great idea into taking action,” says Frank Wells, President and CEO of Venture House. “Three years ago we began just as a seed of an idea -- a winning pitch at a social enterprise contest. It’s amazing to see how much has grown out of this little seed.”

As reported in the July 2014 article in 83 Degrees Media, Venture House is working in partnership with Bright Community Trust, a Clearwater-based community land trust with a goal of “creating healthy and sustainable communities across Florida.”

Both Bright Community Trust, formerly known as the Pinellas Community Housing Foundation, and Venture House are focused on buying run-down, boarded-up homes in “blighted” neighborhoods and turning them into attractive, affordable housing.  

The goal is not only to create quality housing but also in a much bigger sense to revitalize struggling communities plagued by poverty. “Social enterprise is a big part of our mission -- how to use housing as a tool to improve and build community,” says Wells.

It’s also about giving a boost to local residents by helping increase their property values and offering a helping hand to entrepreneurs who can then create local jobs.

Southside CRA designation

Lake Maggiore Shores and Bartlett Park are neighborhoods located within the city’s Southside CRA or Community Redevelopment Area. Some 4,700 acres in South St. Petersburg and more than 20 neighborhood and business associations are included in this designation.  

It’s all part of a long-term plan to bring economic development and revitalization to South St. Petersburg through several initiatives, including improving and rehabbing the housing market to “expand opportunities for entrepreneurs, minority, women and disadvantaged business enterprises and small businesses.” 

The City of St. Petersburg is working with Venture House to identify suitable housing to rehab. The Bartlett Park homes will be new construction built on three vacant lots -- lots that the City of St. Petersburg agreed to give Venture House to fulfill the organization’s community land trust mission.

“It matches the city’s goal of in-filling new construction to make the whole block nicer for local residents,” he says.

Wells expects a bid to go out in the near future to identify a local builder to work with Venture House on the construction. Funding is coming from a combination of private donation and both federal and local funds. 

Showcase demonstration home 

The Lake Maggiore Shores’ home has a slightly different vision.  It will become a showcase demonstration home for Venture House, says Wells.

A “call” has gone out for artists to submit ideas for a proposed art project that will become a permanent fixture in the home.  

“We hope to have an event in the fall where we’ll present all the different artist ideas and have the audience vote on them. Then we’ll crowd-fund those projects that are the favorites,” says Wells.

So far, FunktionHouse, a St. Petersburg artisan furniture  maker who uses locally sourced recycled local trees, will be donating a recycled wood bar top, and the Morean Arts Center, will be creating a glass wall piece, says Wells.

In addition, community volunteers and groups like the Home Builders Institute, a career training organization for the construction industry, have been helping begun demolishing the current structure to get ready for renovation.

The Maggiore Shores showcase home is expected to be finished by early next year.  But the other three homes in the Bartlett Park neighborhood are expected to be ready for occupancy much sooner.

“Our goal is to get those houses built and people moved into them,” says Wells.

Individuals eligible to live in a Venture House-sponsored property aren’t limited to just artists and entrepreneurs in the traditional sense. 

“We’re looking at the arts in a very broad sense. Not just painters and sculptors, but also opera singers, hip hop DJ’s, spoken word artists and poets,” says Wells.

The same scenario applies to entrepreneurs. “It’s not just the next new graduate writing a phone App, but someone launching a catering or restaurant business, landscaping, braiding hair, or even an activist doing great community work,” says Wells.  

“It was Watson Haynes (president and CEO of the Pinellas County Urban League) who opened up my eyes to this idea,” says Wells. “Entrepreneurship can be a path to developing wealth that changes the outcome for the homeowner and the community, especially for people who find there aren’t a lot of job opportunities open to them. Entrepreneurship can be a transformative tool for South St. Petersburg and many other communities.”

New studio space coming to St. Pete Warehouse Arts District

New studio space is coming to St. Petersburg’s Warehouse Arts District and the community is invited to come take a peek at the progress on Thursday, April 27th.

At a “Hard Hat Celebration” and fundraiser, the St. Pete Warehouse Art District Association will showcase the ArtsxChange, a project that converts 50,000 square feet of space into affordable art studios as part of the association’s commitment to the local art community.

“It’s a chance to get people up to date on the project, which has been in the works for several years, let our sponsors and donors see where their money has gone and to really invite artists into the area to bear witness to our commitment to provide affordable space for them to create,” WADA Executive Director Mary Jane Park says.

The event begins at 4:30 p.m. and includes art by incoming ArtsXchange artists, live music, food and drinks, remarks from St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman and more. The new studios, located at 515 22nd St. S, are currently under construction and attendees will have the opportunity to view progress. A $20 donation to WADA is suggested but the event is free to attend.

WADA has branded the ArtsxChange as a resource for the city, local artists and the community by creating “sustainable and affordable art studios and educational space.” The first phase of development began in March and is expected to conclude in mid-summer. It includes a 1,500-square-foot community space for art exhibitions and educational programing as well as 28 studios.

Smith and Associates CEO Bob Glaser says his business is sponsoring the ArtsxChange because it improves the community and adds opportunity for residents.

“It’s going to bring a lot of positive change to the market place,” he says.

For more information on the event, to register and to view a list of ArtsXchange sponsors visit WADA online.

Cross-Bay Ferry initial run exceeds expectations, likely to return in fall

As a sixth-month test period comes to a close, the Cross-Bay Ferry is scheduled to stop making runs on April 30.

But action taken by the Hillsborough County Commission indicates it will likely be back.

The commissioners directed county staff to find funds in the 2018 budget that could be invested in a seasonal ferry linking the downtowns of Tampa and St. Petersburg. Last year, Hillsborough allocated $350,000 to the pilot program, along with Pinellas County, Tampa and St. Petersburg.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Sandy Murman says the county received somewhere between $40,000 and $50,000 back on its initial investment and the ferry project is headed in the right direction.

“We’re knee deep in transportation issues right now and we’ve build a great case for a successful project,” she says.

Proponents of the ferry say it performed beyond expectations during the trial run, proving itself as a viable transportation option.

“It’s had good revenues, strong ridership and very strong corporate sponsorship,” says Ed Turanchik, project adviser.
According to Turanchik, ridership for April is on track to reach 10,000 people. In total, more than 36,000 passengers have boarded the ferry for a trip across the bay.

The 149-seat catamaran runs from downtown St. Pete’s waterfront to downtown Tampa near the convention center seven days a week with the heaviest ridership on weekends. The pilot program served as a demonstration of the non-commuter market, which accounts for the majority of travel.

“This really shows us there’s a strong market for non-work-based transit,” Turanchik says.

Now that it has some momentum, Turanchick is looking at the next phase for the ferry.

“Now it’s not a question of a pilot,” he says. “It’s using seasonal service to transition into permanent service and build the market.”

With public-private partnerships to fund the initial investment and operating costs of the new transportation system in the works, big things are possible ferries in the future of Tampa Bay. Champions include Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

“I can readily envision there being a dozen to 16 ferries operating in the bay area when all these things finally are deployed,” Turanchik says. “There’s a market for this and it’s only going to grow.”

Time to get outdoors to play: Springtime spawns local art festivals

As part of its efforts to revive Station Square Park, the city of Clearwater is holding the first in a series of paint parties/art bazaars at the Cleveland Street Park. Painting in the Park - Art Bazaar at Station Square Park kicks off from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, April 1, and continues on the first and third Saturdays through June.

“It’s going to be a real active event with lots of art and live music, an open-air painting class,” says Jennie Pearl, the event coordinator, an artist who will teach the $35 painting class. “It’s going to grow. So far we’ve had such a wonderful response.”

The free event sponsored by the city of Clearwater’s Community Redevelopment Agency and Parks and Recreation Department, also features live music by Sal Belloise (known as Guitar Sal), art by Kelly Strong, beer and wine tasting, body/face painting and unique vendors offering items like Hawaiian Island soaps and wearable-art clothing.

A muralist, Pearl still is recruiting for the upcoming events. “I’m looking for comedians, jugglers, hoola hoopers, massage therapists,” says Pearl, who won the 2016 Clearwater’s Downtown Gateway Art Project. “It’s all the arts."

Plans developed after visitors were polled at a grand reopening of the park in February. “They wanted art, they wanted music and entertainment,” says Laura Canary, Community Redevelopment Coordinator. “They also wanted … some type of adult component, some kind of nightlife in the park as well.”

Meanwhile in Tampa, the 6th Annual International Cuban Sandwich Art and Food Festival is underway from noon until 6 p.m. Saturday, April 1, at Hillsborough Community College in Ybor City. Saturday’s agenda? Trying to make the largest Cuban sandwich. The event continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sunday, with competitors worldwide competing for awards.

The Safety Harbor Songfest is taking place April 1 and 2 at Safety Harbor Music and Art Center and Waterfront Park, featuring the Wood Brothers, Rising Appalachia, and more. It supports the nonprofit art center’s events; music begins at 11 a.m. both days.

The Tampa Bay Blues Festival is coming to Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg April 7, 8, and 9.  The event kicks off with Dennis Gruenling at 12:30 p.m. Friday, and includes The Rides with Stephen Stills, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and Barry Goldberg Saturday at 8:30 p.m.

Organizers of the free, two-day Mainsail Art Festival April 22 and 23, who are expecting to draw some 100,000, also are gearing up for the juried art competition at Vinoy Park. Some $60,000 will be awarded to prize winners at the festival, which began in 1976 when the city’s Bicentennial Committee, the St, Petersburg Recreation Department and St. Petersburg Arts Commission collaborated on a sidewalk arts and colonial crafts festival.

“It wasn’t a juried show. Now it’s one of the top in the country,” says Lisa Wells, who chairs the all-volunteer planning committee. “The prize money’s grown, everything’s grown. ... The quality has gotten better.”

The event, sponsored by the city, Junior League of St. Petersburg, and Tampa Bay Times, was among the top 20 best shows by Wisconsin-based Sunshine Artist magazine in 2016.

The festival, which draws more than 250 exhibiting artists, runs from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. April 22 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. April 23. The lineup includes Jah Movement Reggae Band at noon April 22,  Souliz at 4:30 p.m. April 22, and singer-songwriter-instrumenalist Damon Fowler at 3:45 p.m. April 23.

The city is seeking volunteers, who can signup online.

Here are some other art-related events planned in the Tampa Bay area during April.

Broad Comedy, a benefit for Planned Parenthood, is slated from 7 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. April 6 at Ybor’s CL Space, 1911 N. 13th St. It features standup comics Robin Savage and Becca Childs, along with writers Lori Shannon and Cathy Salustri.

• Coffee lovers can check out the Tampa Bay Coffee and Art Festival from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. April 8 at The Noise Box, 1310 John Moore Road, Brandon. The festival features craft coffee roasters from Florida and local artists, food trucks and desserts.

• The Latin Music Festival is slated April 8 at 5730 Shore Blvd. S., Gulfport. The concert, on Boca Ciega Bay from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m., will include recording artists Orchestra Fuego, The Latin Jazz Knights, Freddy Montez, Victor J. Moreno with Esther Suarez, and Eddie Garrido. It is the first of a series of annual Latin Music Festivals. Admission is $15; children under 10 are free.

• Gulfport’s annual Springfest Garden Art and Faerie Festival is slated from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. April 14 and 15 at Clymer Park at 5501 27th Ave. S. Renaissance-era characters will roam at the event featuring a Good Friday Fish Fry, May Pole dances, a costume contest, and live music. Admission is free; complimentary parking is offered. More information is available at Springfest's Facebook page or 727-322-5217.

The SunLit Festival kicks off with a party from 7 to 9 p.m. April 6 at the Chihuly Collection in St. Petersburg. The third annual event runs April 10 through 25, bringing together literary organizations and others.

• The Florida Antiquarian Book Fair, in its 36th year, is slated April 21 to April 23 at St. Petersburg Coliseum. The fair is a mecca for book lovers, offering books on just about any topic.


New apartments, shops coming to Skyway Marina District in St. Pete

The first new mixed-used retail and residential project for St. Petersburg’s Skyway Marina District will break ground in the next six to nine months.  

Phillips Development and Realty, a Tampa-based firm, closed on the $70 million proposed development this month. Plans call for the developer to build a 300-unit multi-family apartment complex, along with retail shops and restaurants.

"The Skyway Marina District is a stone's throw from Gulf beaches and downtown St. Pete -- two areas that so many love to experience,” says Donald Phillips, managing director of Phillips Development and Realty. “The project will allow people to live where they play and be able to afford it all."

The nine-acre site at 34th Street South and 30th Avenue South, is across the street from Ceridian, a global human resource management company. The land was previously owned by The Home Depot, but has sat vacant for a number of years.  Phillips purchased the land from The Home Depot for $4.2 million, according to company spokesperson Parker Homans.

More than 13,000-square-feet of retail and residential are proposed, along with 100,000-square-feet of climate controlled storage space. The company is currently in negations with several local and regional businesses, says Homans.

In a press release announcing the project, Phillips says the Skyway Marina District is “screaming for retail, luxury living and involvement from the St. Petersburg art scene.”  

In recognition of St. Petersburg’s vibrant collection of more than 30 urban mural arts, the company is planning to create its own mural, which will be located at the entry to the Skyway Marina District.

Also planned is an entertainment area with a lazy river, sand volleyball court and beach-style dining. The lazy river will be open to restaurant patrons and apartment residents and their guests. 

“We envision people dining outside and taking a spin on the river,” says Homans. “We want people to feel like they are on vacation when visiting the property.”

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman calls the Skyway Marina District, “the Southern Gateway to St. Petersburg and Pinellas County.”  

The city adopted a Skyway Marina District Plan in 2015, with the goal of adding affordable housing and retail to the site, which is considered to have prime redevelopment opportunity.  

Both the mayor and city council members have voiced strong support for the new Phillip’s mixed-use development, saying it “compliments the city’s vision” for the Skyway Marina District.

The city had already committed to $1.6 million for public improvements to the district for signage, landscaping, pedestrian lighting, banners and bus shelters. Now, in recognition of Phillip’s project as the first major new development in the area, the city is planning another $1 million in improvements to the site adjacent to the new complex, including a proposed extension of the Skyway Trail, a pedestrian and bike linear greenway trail that connects with Maximo Park and the Pinellas Trail.

This is the company’s first venture in St. Petersburg, although the firm has extensive residential and commercial projects in North Carolina and completed Visconti at International Plaza, an upscale apartment complex in Tampa’s Westshore District, several years ago. 

Coast Bike Share rolls out 20 new hubs with 200 rentable bicycles in downtown St. Pete

Hopping on two wheels for bike ride through the 'burg just became easier than ever: Coast Bike Share celebrated its official launch in St. Pete on Feb. 4 with a community ride, led by Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin, through the downtown streets and along the waterfront. 

Approximately 100 riders participated in the launch, including members of Shift St. Pete, the St. Pete Bike Co-op, and Hillsborough and Pinellas bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees. The launch party culminated in a "ride-through" style ribbon-cutting at the fourth annual Localtopia celebration.

"The city is so ready for it," says Eric Trull, Regional Director of Coast Bike Share and St. Petersburg resident.

"With the culture here -- between the arts community, the food, and the breweries -- the demographic here is all about the bikes. The biggest question we received during the launch was not 'What is the bike share?' but 'Why did it take so long to get one here?'" says Trull. 

The official Coast Bike Share launch brings a total of 20 new bike share stations with 200 new bicycles to downtown St. Pete this month. Coast Bike Share introduced a demo bike share system to St. Pete in November to coincide with the Cross-Bay Ferry launch -- celebrating a growing culture of diverse multimodal transportation options in Tampa and St. Petersburg.

The November demo-release rolled out 100 bikes at 10 bicycle hubs around downtown St. Pete, offering a variety of bike rental rates: pay-as-you-go for $8 per hour, $15 for a monthly membership that includes 60 minutes of daily ride time, or $79 for an annual membership ($59 for students) with 60 minute of daily ride time. For a limited time, St. Pete residents can also sign up for the 'Founding Plan' -- a $99 annual membership that offers 90 minutes of daily ride time. Riders can reserve a bike on location by signing up online and using the bike hub keypad to enter their own unique pin code, or by using the Social Bicycles smartphone app.

The St. Pete bike fleet is the second Coast Bike Share program in the region. It joins the Tampa fleet, which launched in 2014 with 300 rentable bicycles at 30 hubs throughout downtown, the Channel District, Hyde Park, Davis Island, Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, the Tampa Riverwalk and Ybor City.

Trull says that Coast Bike Share aims to improve access to downtown St. Pete and its surrounding districts by strategically placing bike share hubs throughout the region. Coast Bike Share St. Pete hubs are located in the Grand Central District, Old Northeast and the waterfront, the Edge District, the Innovation District, and the emerging Deuces Live District.

"We're trying to make sure we hit as many neighborhoods as we can to connect everybody to downtown," Trull says.

Coast Bike Share cycles are relatively lightweight three-speed cruisers -- weighing in at just under 40 lbs, and come equipped with a basket and a GPS-enabled lock that enables riders to rent-and-ride -- and conveniently drop bikes off at the nearest available bike share station. The bikes also calculate the distance traveled and calories burned by riders.

Trull says Coast Bike Share system was proud to reach its cumulative 300,000 mile mark during the St. Pete pilot -- with 4% of the program's total mileage clocked in St. Pete during the pilot period alone. 

In its first 90 days, Coast Bike Share reports that St. Pete pedalers biked over 12,000 miles in 4,400 trips -- meaning that those who chose to ride rather than drive burned a combined 480,000 calories and contributed to a 10,560 lb reduction in carbon waste. 

Learn more about cruising around Tampa and St. Petersburg on two wheels by visiting the Coast Bikes website

For Good: Duke Energy grant to boost services for South St. Pete families, students

A $1 million grant from the Duke Energy Foundation will allow the United Way Suncoast to expand an innovative program for families in the Campbell Park community and nearby neighborhoods in South St. Petersburg.

“We hope that our financial investment will continue to help address this community’s vital needs,” says Harry Sideris, president, Duke Energy Florida. 

The grant aligns with Duke Energy Foundation’s ongoing giving priorities, which include kindergarten to career educational and workforce development, environmental issues and social programs that positively impact communities.

Since 2011, United Way Suncoast has operated a neighborhood program at Campbell Park Elementary School that offers a variety of social services and support for parents and students. The program is focused primarily on education, including attendance and tardiness, as well as financial stability programs for the adults in the community. 

Last year, the agency took that program to the next level with the launch of a dedicated community resource center at Cross and Anvil Human Services Center, a nonprofit organization run by Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church in partnership with the Pinellas County Urban League and other organizations.

The Cross and Anvil Human Services Center currently provides academic support services, such as GED assistance, FCAT and college preparation, mental health counseling, parental engagement programs and veterans services.

Duke Energy funding will allow the United Way Suncoast to add new services at the center that target workforce development, including job coaching, resume’ writing and similar skills training, as well as financial coaching, legal advice and other social support services. The goal is to help address variety of community needs, including empowering individuals and families to work toward long-term stability.

In addition to investing in the community through the grant, Duke Energy employees are contributing to the new social services program through the Duke Energy in Action corporate volunteer program. Employees recently participating in painting and landscaping the Cross and Anvil Human Services Center. 

“We live here, work here and are committed to our communities year-round,” says Sideris.

The United Way Suncoast serves Pinellas, Hillsborough, Sarasota and Desoto counties and works with partner agencies to provide programs promoting literacy, workforce development and financial counseling, temporary emergency services during natural disasters and neighborhood community services.

“Duke Energy’s generosity and commitment to the Campbell Park neighborhood is as incredible as the tremendous potential that exists in the residents of this community,” says Suzanne McCormick, president and CEO of United Way Suncoast, in a statement announcing the new partnership. “We are excited for the opportunities this gift brings and proud to be working with so many wonderful business and nonprofit partners.” 

St. Petersburg’s Station House undergoes next phase in urban development

Station House, downtown St. Petersburg’s unique co-working space, restaurant and event venue, is undergoing the next phase in development with plans to update the main facility and expand the concept to an additional location, says Founder and Proprietor Steve Gianfilippo.

“It’s part of a planned phased-in upgrade,” says Gianfilippo. “I like to let our customers give us feedback about where we can make improvements. We’ve been listening and now we’re ready to move forward. It’s an evolving process.”

Station House opened in 2014 after extension renovations to its historic 100-year-old location that once housed a fire station, then hotel and train station. The five-story venue now includes a first-floor restaurant and bar; communal and co-working space for lease anywhere from a day to long-term; small private office suites; event meeting rooms and a rooftop garden. Memberships at various levels are offered.

Construction begins this month (January 2017) on a number of planned upgrades to the venue. First on the list is a shaded pergola and landscaping for the rooftop garden.

“We needed to provide some protection from the elements and a little shade to make it more comfortable, especially in the summer,” says Gianfilippo. The rooftop space can accommodate private parties, community events and fitness activities like the popular yoga classes that are held there.

The restaurant and co-working spaces, as well as the building’s front entrance, will also be enhanced.

While the restaurant will remain in the same location, the entry will move to the front of the building to make it more visible and to improve traffic flow, as well as giving it a higher profile, Gianfilippo says. The restaurant’s interior will have an overhaul in concept, layout and design.  

“It’s all part of a plan to raise the profile of the restaurant, improve entry to the building and create better synergy between the various elements we offer at Station House,” says Gianfilippo. “It’s preliminary right now, but some of the plans under consideration include extensive landscaping and a mural at the front entrance with some sort of 3D mapping experience.”

The popular communal co-working space, which features a striking black-and-white tile floor, high-top tables and meeting rooms set up as living rooms, will also have a few added “fun” elements like a ping pong table and virtual gaming.

Station House will also be expanding into the Central Arts District. Last August, Gianfilippo purchased another historic property -- the Green-Richman Arcade, located at 689 Central Avenue. The 1920-era building is on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Station House members will be able to use the new venue, which is currently being branded as the Station House Arcade.  Gianfilippo says he expects renovations on the arcade to be complete by the end of January.  

The historic façade of the building will remain but a renovation of the interior is planned with offices, common areas, conference rooms, and possibly an interior garden. The property, which is near the Morean Arts Center, Chihuly Collection and Central Avenue boutiques and galleries, will reflect the eclectic creative arts culture in that part of downtown, says Gianfilippo.  

“This is a growing area and we got in just in the nick of time,” he says. “It’s a cool, hip area that is quickly developing.”

Construction on the restaurant at the main facility is projected to be completed by spring or summer of 2017.

St. Pete-Clearwater airport continues renovations, on track to serve record number of travelers

Construction at St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is moving along as planned, and the growing airport is on target to serve the most passengers in its history -- 1.8 million.
 
The airport has been modernizing its terminal since 2008. According to Michele Routh, the airport's PR Director, the first and second phases of the project included adding a chiller plant for the HVAC system; updating plumbing systems; adding two passenger loading bridges; renovating Gates 2-6 hold rooms for expanded seating, square footage, restrooms and restaurant areas; and addressing other infrastructure issues.
 
Most of the airport's passengers -- about 95 percent -- are served by Allegiant Air, which was moved from Ticketing B to Ticketing A because an inline baggage system was added there during the second phase of the project.
 
"It processes bags quicker," Routh says of the inline system.
 
The third phase of the project began in April and includes adding an inline baggage system to Ticketing B. In September, the airport received a $753,979 grant from the Transportation Security Administration for the design of the new system. An additional grant for $300,000 had already been awarded from the Florida Department of Transportation Aviation Funding. The total design cost is $1,070,302.
 
"Once we get this designed and get it built, then Allegiant will get back to Ticketing B where there's more counter space, and they'll have the inline system." Routh says.
 
The third phase of the project also includes a major focus on Gates 7-10, as well as adding checkpoints, restrooms, restaurant space and a play area for kids designed by Great Explorations Children's Museum.
 
"We're adding 12,000 square feet to the Gates 7-10 area," Routh says, which includes an additional 450 seats.
 
The airport has also added a third checkpoint for Gates 2-6, and will add a third checkpoint for Gates 7-10 by the time the third phase of the project is completed, which is estimated to be in summer 2017.
 
Additionally, the airport opened a cell phone parking lot over the summer, will update its master plan next summer, and plans to build a parking garage in the future.
 
All of the projects are meant to accommodate the airport's travelers, who have more than tripled in the past 10 years.
 
"The growth we've had in the last decade since Allegiant and Sunwing joined us has been a 322 percent increase," Routh says.
 
She says the airport is proud of its customer service and its commitment to heavily compete for grants to fund its projects. The airport has no debt service and has spent $76 million over the last 10 years. It plans to spend $142 million in renovation projects in the next 10 years.
 
"We're very excited about all the developments," Routh says. "As we go through them, our challenge is making it as easy on our passengers as we possibly can."

Nautical-inspired restaurant The Galley to open in St. Petersburg this month

Two hospitality professionals are banking on downtown St. Petersburg's growth as they open their new restaurant, The Galley, this month.
 
St. Pete natives Pete Boland and Ian Taylor have joined forces to create the nautical-inspired eatery and tavern at 27 Fourth St. across from Williams Park, the open-air post-office and Snell Arcade.
 
It's an area that is expected to change dramatically by 2018. Near the restaurant, the 400 Block and the ONE condo-hotel building are slated for development.
 
Boland doesn't disclose the pair's investment in the project, but he says "we are well-funded and in it for the long haul."
 
The restaurant and tavern is located in a two-story, 2,000-square-foot space that was most recently Reno Downtown Joint. Decades ago, the building served as a Howard Johnson hotel with an oversized kitchen, which is now where Chef Ian Carmichael will create high-quality food, Boland says. The menu will feature Grouper sandwiches, Cuban sandwiches, stone crabs, and desserts with fresh Florida fruit.
 
Boland and Taylor have made substantial renovations to the building that are largely cosmetic to create a nautical look and feel with the warmth of a local tavern. Boland says there's familial seating, a mural by Seacat Murals, 10 HDTVs for Sunday football and local games, and a projector screen for special events.
 
Nearby restaurants and bars include Fuego Lounge, Cask and Ale, and Ruby's Elixir. Boland says The Galley's locally-inspired gastropub with Beach Drive-quality cuisine and Central Avenue-style fun make it unique.
 
The target customer is locals and tourists of all ages, and Boland says he sees the restaurant as a place where locals can bring visiting friends and family.
 
So, what should patrons order on their first visit?
 
"The Grouper sandwich -- we want to serve this iconic item better than anywhere else on the peninsula," Boland says. "Or whatever special Chef Ian Carmichael has on the menu that day. He won't disappoint."
 
The target opening date for The Galley is mid-December, sometime before Christmas. The restaurant will create about 20 new jobs, and almost all the bar staff has been recruited. Back-of-house positions are currently being hired. To apply, email Carmichael at Ian.C@TheGalleyStPete.com.
 
For more information about The Galley, visit the restaurant on Facebook and Instagram.

Ford's Garage restaurant acquires Rowdies Den, plans summer 2017 opening

Ford's Garage, a restaurant known for its old-school service station theme, has acquired the space previously occupied by the Rowdies Den in downtown St. Petersburg, which closed Sunday.
 
The new restaurant will open in the summer of 2017 in the location at the corner of First Avenue and Second Street. It plans to continue to be the official gathering spot for fans of the Tampa Bay Rowdies soccer team.
 
Ford's Garage was established in 2012 in Ft. Myers and has expanded to Cape Coral, Estero and Brandon. Each gourmet burger bar looks similar inside and out, with a 1920s service station/prohibition style. The new St. Pete location is one of several that the company has in the works.
 
"The area itself, just knowing the energy that's thriving there, has been on the radar for at least a year," Tara Matheny, director of Business Development for 23 Restaurant Services, the parent company of Ford's Garage and Yeoman's Cask & Lion in downtown Tampa, says of St. Pete.
 
She says the location of the restaurant space is appealing because it's right in the middle of downtown, which has a unique vibe.
 
"It just fits with that energy that’s going on in downtown St. Pete," she says.
 
Other up-and-coming Ford's Garage locations include Wesley Chapel, next to Tampa Premium Outlets, which is projected to open in February; Westchase/Citrus Park, at Sheldon Road and Linebaugh Avenue, which is expected to open in March; Clearwater, close to Countryside Mall, which is projected to open in April; and Dearborn, Mich., which is expected to open at the end of May or the beginning of June.
 
Matheny says the entire company is especially looking forward to the St. Pete location though because of its potential for success in such a lively community.
 
"It's really exciting for all of us," she says.
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